AEM095-1 The Powder Kegs (Follow-Up Review)

This is a followup single. Interested readers are encouraged to check out AEM095 for more free music and information.

Last year, The Powder Kegs earned our attention with their catchy and energetic cuts “La Mariposa” and “Shake Me Down” on AEM095. Since then, they’ve refined their sound and have a new album, The Amanicans.

Historically, the sophomore album is a litmus test. It requires the artist to strike an appropriate balance between old and new and, no matter how artfully he succeeds, the he can expect a certain degree of shit from fans who think he leaned too far in one direction. Indeed, sophomore albums invite criticism. However, if an artist can make it past the sophomore album hurdle without receiving too much shit, we must view this as a mark of considerable success. Indeed, the sophomore album is the key measure by which we may distinguish the bands we really like from the bands we only think we like.

The Amanicans offers much to enjoy and leaves very little to wish for. Moreover, it marks a major step in the artistic development of the band. The new material is darker, heavier, and considerably more substantive than the material on the debut EP, and it draws upon more diverse influences.

With pronounced shades of Punk and Brit-Pop, A-Side “Broke Time” has the requisite punch to capture the attention of any listener sedated by the previous album’s laid-back vibe. Yet these new influences do not seem incongruous;the music retains the salient features that drew us to The Powder Kegs in the first place. The tune commences with the artists’ characteristic lush falsettos, accompanied by a twangy guitar lick. After a few cycles, the beat drops, satisfying the listener’s more visceral audio-needs with a solid foundation upon which the composition unfolds. The crisp bass and drum groove persists throughout several refrains (repetitions of the title lyrics) and verses, offset now and then by a chorus. The mellow half-time feel of the chorus does not threaten to undermine the escalation of the composition, but rather serves as a respite, and each time the verse/refrain reappears, it’s rehashed with heightened intensity. The build culminates with a heavy pentatonic riff accentuated by a strong back-beat-an ending that fans of The Powder Kegs’ previous material might find abrasive, had we not been eased into it so gradually.

Like so much of The Powder Kegs’ material, both new and old, B-Side “The Sea” is marked by falsetto and harmony. This time, however, those characteristics are re-contextualized against the backdrop of eerie drugged-out lullaby reminiscent of the Beatles during the height of their LSD years. The composition’s loping three-beat pulse, occasionally shaken by isolated five-beat measures, adds to the general sense of uneasiness. As the composition builds, the many distinct voices (instruments) within the dystopian dreamscape appear ready to coalesce. And yet, our expectations are never satisfied-which is precisely what makes this track so satisfying. The triumphant horns that so hopefully buoy the end up from the depths of delusion are ultimately tethered to the seafloor, and leave the listener tantalizingly close to the surface, inches short of harmonic salvation. Cheesy ocean metaphors aside, “The Sea” represents a bold departure for a band I so recently praised-but nearly wrote off-as accessible.

In fact, the Powder Kegs do remain accessible, but The Amanicans demonstrates a slight penchant for the experimental that I wouldn’t have necessarily anticipated from the band I wrote up just last year. They’ve taken a few risks-enough to maintain our interest without fucking up the original recipe-and it really shows.

If you like what you hear, The Amanicans may be purchased at Now you can pat yourself on the back for supporting starving independent artists and also for having impeccable taste!

Broke Time Broke Time.mp3

The Sea The Sea.mp3